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Learn Basic Programming So You Aren't At the Mercy of Programmers 313

An anonymous reader writes "Derek Sivers, creator of online indie music store CD Baby, has a post about why he thinks basic programming is a useful skill for everybody. He quotes a line from a musician he took guitar lessons from as a kid: "You need to learn to sing. Because if you don't, you're always going to be at the mercy of some a****** singer." Sivers recommends translating that to other areas of life. He says, 'The most common thing I hear from aspiring entrepreneurs is, "I have this idea for an app or site. But I'm not technical, so I need to find someone who can make it for me." I point them to my advice about how to hire a programmer, but as most of the good ones are already booked solid, it's a pretty helpless position to be in. If you heard someone say, "I have this idea for a song. But I'm not musical, so I need to find someone who will write, perform, and record it for me." — you'd probably advise them to just take some time to sit down with a guitar or piano and learn enough to turn their ideas into reality. And so comes my advice: Yes, learn some programming basics. Just some HTML, CSS, and JavaScript should be enough to start. ... You don't need to become an expert, just know the basics, so you're not helpless.'"
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Learn Basic Programming So You Aren't At the Mercy of Programmers

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 13, 2013 @03:45AM (#42572915)

    Using HTML, JavaScript and CSS is more like designing.Next thing you know someone thinks of using TeX and LaTeX as programming instead of writing a book or article.

  • Incredibly stupid (Score:1, Interesting)

    by logru ( 909550 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @03:52AM (#42572935) Homepage
    By the same token you should also know a little about raising pigs as you won't be held a****** farmer, or mechanic, and lets not forget those a****** astrophysicists, clearly everybody should be able to calculate the amount of redshift from a distant star. In todays society we need to specialize and not everyone can learn a little of everything.
  • by Tagged_84 ( 1144281 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @03:52AM (#42572937)
    While I have no problem with programming I am at the mercy of an artist for my games. So the last couple months I've been practising drawing with Vectors (I've actually found InkScape to be easier than Illustrator) so that I no longer have to find a willing graphics artist for my games. I've been drawing the assets for my next project as I figured that's the best way to learn, never have to stop and think of what to practice drawing next as I have the list in front of me.

    It also means if I end up with sub-par results at least I've improved my art skills and have a strong list of assets for the artist! Plus it's another step that forces me to consider each asset before throwing it in there as not only do I need to design and code but now I need to spend the time drawing it, the end result being a cheaper contract rate from fewer art assets.
  • by jhoegl ( 638955 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @04:06AM (#42572979)
    Not really, the basics can be learned through books.
    Like loops, variable types, arrays, etc.
    Computers are just used to compile code so you understand what you are doing, learn mistakes, learn proper methods, and how to debug.
  • by seebs ( 15766 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @04:16AM (#42573021) Homepage

    Plauger's essay, many years ago, about programmer types struck me as better advice: If you enjoy programming, do it. If you don't mind it, but don't really enjoy it, feel free to do it, but have other things available. If you hate it, don't do it, because you will be dramatically worse off than if you did something you enjoyed and were probably good at.

    It's a great thought to "not be at the mercy of some programmer". Makes sense for singing, for musicians. Thing is, you don't have to sing particularly well to sing adequately to get stuff recorded. Might not make a lot of money, but you can do pretty well if you can carry a tune at all. Or even if you can't, if you're charismatic. But a bad programmer doesn't just produce tolerable but sort of flawed programs; a bad programmer produces programs that are frequently worse than not having a program at all.

  • As Dijkstra once said - "computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes"

  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @06:27AM (#42573383) Journal

    I'm not sure that learning some superficial idea of a language is going to help. And I'll give you a couple of reasons why:

    1. Dunning-Kruger. The people with the least knowledge on the domain are those who overrate their knowledge the most.

    Now I really wish to believe that some management or marketing guy is willing to sink 10,000 hours into becoming good at programming, and have a good idea of exactly what he's asking for. I really do. But we both know that even if he does a decent amount overtime, that's about 3 years of doing NOTHING BUT programming, i.e., he'd have to not do his real job at all any more. Or more like 15 years if he does some two-hours a day of hobby-style programming in the afternoon. And he probably won't even do that.

    What is actually going to happen, if at all, is that he'll plod through it up to first peak of his own sense of how much it knows, i.e., the Dunning-Kruger sweet spot. The point where he thinks he knows it all, except, you know, maybe some minor esoteric stuff that doesn't matter anyway. But is actually the point where he doesn't know jack.

    2. And from my experience, those are the worst problem bosses. The kind which is an illustration of Russell's, "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." The kind who is cock-sure that he probably is better at programming than you anyway, he just, you know, doesn't have the time to actually do it. (Read: to actually get experience.)

    That's the kind who's just moved from just a paranoid suspicion that your making a fuss about the 32414'th change request is taking advantage of him, to the kind who "knows" that you're just an unreasonable asshole. After all, he has no problem making changes to the 1000 line JSP or PHP page he did for practice (half of which being just HTML mixed in with the business code.) If he wants to add a button to that one, hey, his editor even lets him drag and drop it in 5 seconds. Why, he can even change it from displaying a fictive list of widgets to a fictive list of employees. So your wanting to redo a part of the design to accommodate his request to change the whole functionality of a 1,000,000 line program (which is actually quite small) must be some kind of trying to shaft him.

    It's the kind who thinks that if he did a simple example program in Visual Fox Pro, a single-user "database", placed the database files on a file server, and then accessed them from another workstation, that makes him qualified to decide he doesn't need MySQL or Oracle for his enterprise system, he can just demand to have it done in Visual Fox Pro. In fact, he "knows" it can be done that way. No, really, this is an actual example that happened to me. Verbatim. I'm not making it up.

    3. Well, it doesn't work on other domains either, so I don't see why programming would be any different. People can have a superficial understanding of how a map editor for Skyrim works, and it won't prevent them from coming with some unreasonable idea like that someone should make him every outfit from [insert Anime series] and not just do it for free, but credit him, because, hey, he had the idea. No, seriously, just about every other idiot thinks that the reason someone hasn't done a total conversion from Skyrim to Star Wars is that they didn't have the precious idea.

    Basically it's Dunning-Kruger all over again.

    I think more than understanding programming, what people need is understanding that ideas are a dime a dozen. What matters is the execution.

    What they need to understand is that, no, you're probably not the next Edison or Ford or Steve Jobs or whatever. There are probably a thousand other guys who had the same idea, some may have even tried it, and there might actually be a reason why you never heard of it being actually finished. And even those are remembered for actually having the management skills to make those ideas work, not just for having an idea.

    Ford didn't just make it for having the idea of making a cheap

  • Re:No.. just no... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @08:04AM (#42573607) Homepage

    If it's an idea that is scribbled down on the back of a napkin, maybe not. But I'm reminded of the founding story of one software company I heard, the initiator was an electrician but he couldn't code worth shit. So he found a tech-savvy friend and said "I've been an electrician for 20 years now, I worked with most the software tools out there and think there's a market for something better and more streamlined to an electricians daily life with these and those features. I have many contacts in the business we could sell to and I know what the competition is charging because they've been selling to me and there's good money in this. I have done some layouts of how I'd like this to look and work and I can continue to work on that if you can write code to make it work."

    Long story short, friend take a look at it and decides the ideas are implementable, they start a company together, huge success. Of course you could say he brought a lot more than an idea, he bought domain knowledge, proper requirements, specific key features that could sell the product, market contacts and so on but he had absolutely no execution ability on his own. Should he have gone back to school for learn to do it himself? Yeah right. That would have taken years and you can bet that if the first version was made as a newbie's first "real" solo coding project it would have been horrible and flopped. So what do you do if you have all of the above, but no tech-savvy friend? Of course by Sturgeon's law 90% of everything will be crap, but to dismiss everything just because they "need to find someone who can make it for me" is silly.

  • by BrokenHalo ( 565198 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @09:04AM (#42573767)
    Well, no reason why it should. Just about anyone should be able to write some form of pseudocode, however incomplete, for whatever task they want to accomplish with or without the assistance of a computer.

    That said, when I first started working with computers back in the '70s, programmers mostly didn't have access to the actual computer hardware, so if the chunk of code was large, we simply wrote out our FORTRAN, Assembly or COBOL programs on a cellulose-fibre "paper" substance called a Coding Sheet with a graphite-filled wooden stick known as a pencil. These were then transcribed on to mag tape by a platoon of very pretty but otherwise non-human keypunch ops who were universally capable of typing at a rate of 6.02 x 10^23 words per minute. (If the program or patch happened to be small or trivial, we used one of those metal card-punch contraptions with an 029 keypad, thus allowing the office door to slam with nothing to restrain it.)

    This leisurely approach led to a very different and IMHO more creative attitude to coding, and it was probably no coincidence that many programmers back then were pipe-smokers.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus